There is currently a bill before the Senate to establish a Concrete Masonry Products Board, the purpose of which is to “carry out a coordinated program of research, education, and promotion to improve, maintain, and develop markets for concrete masonry products.”
The fact that the government feels the need to regulate this industry at the expense of the taxpayers is, in itself, troubling. What is even more worrisome is that the government feels the need to regulate the concrete industry through criminal enforcement.
This new bill would make it a federal offense, punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to one year in prison, for members or agents of this proposed board to share information that they receive with non-board members. This is just another misuse of the criminal law as a regulatory tool.
The government routinely relies on criminal statutes as regulatory tools, resulting in a labyrinth of more than 4,000 federal criminal laws. Here is another one to add to the pile. It seems that every time Congress faces a problem, its immediate reaction is to create a new crime.
This time the crime is sharing information about concrete. Let’s add that to the list of other heinous federal crimes, including shipping lobsters in plastic instead of cardboard boxes and mistakenly using the wrong type of label to ship chemicals used for scientific research.
That conduct may be wrongdoing (and worse, in some cases it really isn’t or shouldn’t be considered such), but it does not warrant the creation of new criminal statutes that include jail time. They are problems that can and should be resolved with civil penalties, not a career-ruining criminal record.
The one year’s imprisonment would make the crime just a misdemeanor. Why just a misdemeanor? Maybe it is because no one will think that Congress is serious if the only penalty is a fine. Maybe Congress wants a federal law enforcement agency (presumably the FBI) to be able to investigate violations of this law. Maybe it’s just force of habit.
Whatever the reason, if a punishment is necessary at all—the better solution is to not have superfluous boards regulating private industries—then a civil fine should be more than sufficient. Impose treble damages if you like. That should provide ample deterrent. And if Congress wants the FBI to be able to investigate violations of this law, then amend the statutes granting the FBI investigatory authority so that they can question everyone involved. That should be sufficient.
We don’t need to resort to grand jury subpoenas and search warrants (wiretaps will be next), to say nothing of jail time, to deal with these miscreants.
Gavriel Swerling is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.